Presidential Power

October 2, 1968

Report Outline
Status of the Presidency in 1968
Founding Fathers' View of Presidency
Ebb and Flow of Presidential Power
Proposals for Reform of Presidency

Status of the Presidency in 1968

The man elected President of the United States on November 5 will succeed to the most powerful office in the world. The Presidency is not one office but several: The President is Chief Executive, Commander in Chief of the armed forces, Head of State, and head of his party. He is also the government's chief public information officer. “This role,” according to an Army general assigned to the White House, “has assumed greater and greater significance with the increased speed of modern communication—especially with the advent of television.”

The power of the Presidency is such that it may no longer be meaningful to classify Presidents as “weak” or “strong.” In the modern era, the President is virtually forced to be a strong executive. The powers of the office are not only those spelled out in Article II of the Constitution but also those established by precedent or authorized by Congress. Only about one President in three, according to the author of a landmark study of the Presidency, has contributed to the development of executive power. However, “Precedents established by a forceful or politically successful personality in the office are available to less gifted successors, and permanently so because of the difficulty of amending the Constitution.”

Presidents themselves often contend that their power is more potential than real. Harry S. Truman, envisioning in 1952 the problems that Dwight D. Eisenhower would encounter if elected President, said: “He'll sit here and he'll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating.” President Johnson recently exclaimed: “Power? The only power I've got is nuclear—and I can't use that.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Executive Powers and the Presidency
Feb. 24, 2006  Presidential Power
Nov. 15, 2002  Presidential Power
Feb. 02, 2001  The Bush Presidency
Jun. 20, 1997  Line-Item Veto
Jun. 14, 1996  First Ladies
Oct. 21, 1988  Dangers in Presidential Transitions
Jun. 10, 1988  The Quandary of Being Vice President
Jan. 06, 1984  Presidential Advisory Commissions
Jul. 28, 1978  Presidential Popularity
Feb. 13, 1976  Evaluating Presidential Performance
Dec. 12, 1975  Presidential Protection
Jul. 11, 1973  Presidential Reorganization
Mar. 07, 1973  Presidential Accountability
Sep. 24, 1971  Presidential Diplomacy
Nov. 11, 1970  Vice Presidency
Oct. 02, 1968  Presidential Power
Mar. 14, 1966  War Powers of the President
Nov. 23, 1960  Transfer of Executive Power
Apr. 04, 1956  Vice Presidency
Oct. 15, 1952  Change of Presidents
Jun. 09, 1950  President and Mid-Term Elections
Oct. 20, 1948  Federal Patronage
Mar. 24, 1948  The South and the Presidency
Dec. 05, 1947  Military Leaders and the Presidency
Apr. 16, 1947  Veto Power of the President
Sep. 20, 1945  Succession to the Presidency
Sep. 12, 1940  The War Powers of the President
Feb. 11, 1938  Emergency Powers of the President
Jan. 06, 1938  The Power to Declare War
Dec. 28, 1937  Extension of the Veto Power
Dec. 28, 1936  Limitation of the President's Tenure
Mar. 12, 1935  The President and the Congress
Dec. 16, 1932  The Veto Power of the President
May 28, 1931  Presidential Commissions
Oct. 23, 1928  Presidential Appointments and the Senate
Mar. 21, 1928  Business Conditions in Presidential Years
Jan. 20, 1927  The Monroe Doctrine
Mar. 18, 1925  The President's Power of Appointment
Sep. 10, 1923  The President's Position on Patronage
Powers and History of the Presidency